On Wednesday, September 16, 2020, several publications printed reports of immigrant detainee abuse at Homeland Security facilities including the possibility of unapproved hysterectomies on women being held at the facility. The reports and recent court actions highlight the difficulty many immigrant families are facing during the pandemic. Immigrants with proper documentation and status are being denied help through many of the relief measures Congress has passed. In other instances, families at the border and in detention are harshly treated.
In regard to last Wednesday’s reports, a whistleblower, Dawn Wooten, complained about a management team at a Georgia facility where staff and detainees were put at risk of contracting the COVID-19 virus by ignoring medical complaints and refusing to test symptomatic detainees.
The complaint by Wooten was filed on September 8, 2020. She works at the Irwin County facility in Georgia. The company running the Georgia facility, LaSalle, runs 18 detention facilities on behalf of Homeland Security and holds immigrants who have been detained.
Reports were coming from a number of different sources, including the Government Accountability Project and CBS News. In their reports, CBS says that the same whistleblower has raised concerns that questionable hysterectomies were being performed. In her interview, she told the network, Wooten refers to a gynecologist who works outside the facility “the uterus collector.” “Everybody he sees has a hysterectomy – just about everybody,” Wooten said. “He’s even taken out the wrong ovary on a young lady.” Dr. Ada Rivera, the top doctor at the agency, issued a statement saying the whistleblower accusations will be investigated by an independent office, adding, “However, ICE vehemently disputes the implication that detainees are used for experimental medical procedures.”
By Thursday, more than 170 members of Congress had called for an investigation. On Wednesday, Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), said that after being briefed by attorneys for three women who were detained at ICDC. “It appears that there may be at minimum 17 to 18 women who were subjected to unnecessary medical gynecological procedures from just this one doctor, often without appropriate consent or knowledge, and with the clear intention of sterilization.” She labeled the alleged acts “the most abhorrent of human rights violations.”
While the 27-page complaint filed by the Government Accountability Project and advocacy group Project South quotes unidentified detainees extensively, it also includes detailed comments from Wooten. The complaint says Wooten was demoted after missing work with coronavirus symptoms, which she believes was retaliation for raising questions about addressing COVID-19.
The story highlights the continuing challenges immigrant families are experiencing during the pandemic, which only adds to the problems that already were faced by families at the U.S. border.
On September 15, 2020, a federal judge in Maryland, Judge Paula Xinis, ruled that Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf is serving in his position unlawfully, and as a result, he has exceeded his legal authority in the way asylees are treated. On September 10, the Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights hailed another court decision that singled out the Department for policies that, while preventing children and families from seeking asylum at the border, required more than 600 children to remain hidden in hotels, in DHS custody, for days and weeks while the immigration officials arranged for their return. The children had no access to Child Advocates, attorneys, or any of the protections guaranteed them under federal law.
In a report issued earlier this summer, Family Separation is Not Over, the Young Center found, “The Trump Administration continues to separate families, taking children from parents, placing parents in adult immigration detention and children in shelters across the country.” Since the President ended his forced separation policy in June 2018, the Young Center found that another 1,100 children have been separated from their parents.